The Binghamton University Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) held a discussion on Monday to outline the history and consequences of the Palestinian refugee situation. Two professors gave presentations, after which audience members wrote questions on notecards and had them answered by the speakers.
Kent Schull, an assistant professor of history at BU, explained the history of the conflict. Before he began his presentation he said that he had no ideological bias in regards to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
“My approach to this type of issue is looking at it from a humanist perspective,” Schull said. “I don’t have an ideological axe to grind; I’m not Palestinian, I’m not Israeli.”
In his presentation, Schull linked the beginning of the conflict to the War of 1948, where he said that territorial control of the region was disputed.
He detailed the history of dispute in the region from World War I through 1948 and the problems that colonial Britain left behind when it withdrew from the country. He said that when Britain withdrew, a three-way civil war broke out between Jews, Palestinians and foreigners.
According to Schull, the state of Israel was formed with boundaries never fully established to this day. Land left behind by exiled Palestinians was given to Jewish immigrants and he said that Palestinians still live in refugee camps if they cannot afford to leave.
Afterwards, Eric Cheyfitz, an English professor from Cornell University, discussed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement created to protest Israeli acts against Palestinians. The goal of the organization, created by Palestinian activist groups, is to put economic pressure on Israel to recognize more Palestinian rights.
Cheyfitz said that he was Jewish and had family in Israel, so he had no intention of bringing bias into his comments.
“I’m not here to delegitimize Israel,” he said. “I think Israel is doing a good job of delegitimizing itself.”
Cheyfitz said that he got involved with the BDS movement when he realized that Israel wanted to make Palestinian territories into a domestic dependent nation, or a nation that relies upon a more powerful nation.
He said that Israelis are often unwilling to listen to the Palestinian side of the story.
“If you deny somebody their narrative, you take their identity away from them,” Cheyfitz said. “To this day, Israel still does not want to hear the Palestinian narrative.”
Jon Mermelstein, a sophomore majoring in history and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, said that he was pleased with the presentation.
“It was cool to have such an extensive question-and-answer period,” Mermelstein said. “I really liked that we allowed for every professor to be challenged on things that they said in a civilized manner with decorum. We almost filled up the lecture hall, which was also really cool.”